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Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Favorite Workout Wear for Plus-Sized Women

I've been exercising regularly over half of my life now, nearly twenty years. I've gone through a lot of different styles (and brands) of sports bras & tops, athletic boot-cut pants, Capri pants, shorts, socks & sneakers. I am now & always have been plus-sized, meaning that workout wear is both harder to find and usually more expensive to buy than it is for smaller women. It's hard to know where to put the dollars- you don't want to buy shorts that ride up, sports bras that feel like someone duct-taped your chest, socks that make your feet itch or roll down into your shoes. You can't buy shoes that leave your feet aching for hours afterwards, causing shin splints or knee problems. With workout wear you get what you pay for, first of all- other than when items are on sale or clearance, you need to accept this fact. If you're watching every penny, I know that it's tempting not to invest in good workout wear. But I promise from my own experience that it's better to own two really good sports bras than six that are only so-so. You cannot cheat your body out of proper support during exercising without experiencing consequences, and that only gets more true with age. It's best to try & buy things when they're on sale, or maybe when a particular color in a certain style goes to clearance. The day after Thanksgiving & some other holidays offer these sales most consistently. If you have a serious investment in fitness, it can be worthwhile to keep a wish list of these items on hand and ask for them as gifts on birthdays and other gift-receiving occasions.

Your sports bras & tops should hopefully be supportive enough that you do NOT need to double up on wearing them. I have seen larger women wearing two sports bras at once, such as a halter-style & a racer-back style together. This was especially true in the 1990's, when most sports bras for larger busts were not yet designed so well (if you could find one at all). However, sports bra construction and availability for larger busts has improved drastically in the last decade or so and therefore doubling-up should no longer be needed, so long as you buy the right bra. The standard rule regarding sports bra sizing is to go up one band size & down one cup size from a "regular" (non-sports) bra. This is something that I've usually found to be true. You need to know your regular, correct bra size first, obviously. Before you ever order new bras for yourself, take your measurements. Even if you think you know what your bra size is, measure again anyway before ordering any new bras. If you have an odd-numbered measurement (for example, your chest circumference is 43"), size up to the next band size (a 44). You should always be able make the bra tighter in the back hooks & the shoulder straps if need be, but you can't make a bra larger than the settings allow, so it's better to size up & not down. That said, different brands or even certain styles within brands can vary. It's not very easy for a plus-sized woman to find bras out in retail stores to try on, I know. Unless you live in a major city, getting a bra fitting in a department store by a competent store employee is tough (if you're old enough, you'll remember when it was actually very common to get bra fittings in a store!) If you have such a store & can afford to take advantage of it, do so! Those rare but precious employees are trained to get you the best bra(s) for your size & style desires.

Band size is important to get right for a couple of reasons. First, most of a bra's support comes from the band itself, not the straps. Second, if a band size is too large, it'll go crawling up your back towards your neck. This not only provides less support but just plain looks worse. If your band size is too tight, you will obviously be very uncomfortable in a short period of time, plus you take a chance on giving yourself a skin rash. Don't skimp on your cup size, either. If you do, you will have bra hangover, bust spillage in the center of chest, and you won't be getting the most support & best look, either. No one wants to admit that their band size has gone up & it may make you faint to acknowledge how many inches between your chest & bust there is- but you'll just have to get over it! If your bust is five inches larger than your chest size, you need to likely order a D cup in a sports bra, and a DD in a regular bra, for example. The following sports bras are my four favorites, ones I can almost guarantee you will not have to double up on, and will provide you lasting support without sacrificing comfort.

Workout bottoms come in a variety of options & price ranges nowadays, even for plus sizes. I've found QuikWik from Junonia to be the best of the best. I sweat like crazy when I work out & cotton doesn't work nearly as well for me as the QuikWik. I stick with wearing black on bottom because a) I'm bottom-heavy & light colors look terrible on my legs + b) Black shows sweat much less than light bottoms. Heavier women often deal with the very annoying issue of bottoms riding up, especially shorts. Wearing boy-short type bottoms are nice if you're someone who likes to look at your body in a mirror while exercising, checking your form & seeing the muscle motion as you work out. Even women with heavier legs might find they prefer this short style (especially if you work out at home by yourself), because it allows your skin to breathe & feels cool even in the hottest temperatures. Dual-layer shorts are nice to help stop riding up while allowing more coverage & coolness. My personal favorite style, though, is a Capri or cropped pant. Capri pants look especially good on me because I'm tall- cropped pants make most women seem a bit chunkier & they shorten the look of the leg, but they're nice & cool to wear in hot months. Leggings are another option- you can wear ones that are form-fitting to the ankle or ones that have a bootcut to them. This is entirely based on personal preference & I suggest that you experiment to see what works best for your activity & body type. Form-fitting leggings can be nice to layer under other workout bottoms if you'll be walking or working out otherwise in the cold. Bootcut leggings can make your legs look nice & long while balancing out heavier hips- but only if they come to the right length. Too short & they'll look weird. Too long & they become dangerous because they can trip you up by getting underneath your shoe. Leggings or bootcut bottoms are your warmest option, so keep that in mind. I get so warm when I work out & I always exercise indoors, so leggings aren't my favorite option. Remember that your workout sneakers will add some extra height to your frame, sometimes as much as 2". Keep this in mind when you shop for workout bottoms & view the inseam length. I'm 5'7" & wear a 30" inseam in bootcut pants while wearing shoes that have a 1-2" height addition to my frame. However, I know some women of my height have longer or shorter legs than me (I'm short-waisted but my legs are pretty much average for my height). Here are my suggestions for good workout bottoms-

Boy shorts in plus sizes can be hard to find. Cut the ribbon off of these carefully & they'll look less like panties & more like short-shorts:

These come in petite, average & tall inseams & have a bootcut bottom. They're excellent for yoga & outdoor activities:

A decent cotton alternative to the more expensive QuikWik line from Junonia, I like these Capri pants both for exercise & for summer wear. Pair them with a sexy sandal or strappy heel & they look decent as "regular wear", serving double-duty in the wardrobe department. A win-win! They also come in different inseams (as is common with Woman Within):

These are great for layering & make toned, slim legs look great. If your lower half is your better asset, leggings show them off well. These also serve double-duty in the wintertime because you can pair them with snow boots, and your legging bottom won't get wet in the snow like a bootcut or palazzo pant would. Pair them with a good sports bra, a long thick sweatshirt + thick comfy socks, throw on your winter boots & you're set to go for many different kinds of winter workouts!

*Here's the thing about Junonia- their clothes typically run long. If you're more petite, be prepared to get the bottom of your pants hemmed to a shorter length. You may also have to get the seat of the pants tightened up if you're shorter & smaller in that area. Taller women (5'7" & above) will love the extra length Junonia provides. Also, Junonia clothes have always been pre-shrunk & I've ordered from them a lot over the years. With Woman Within, the same cannot be said. Just something to keep in mind. Junonia clothes are more expensive BUT their clothing tends to last longer. QuikWik is especially durable, often lasting several years even with constant wear. They wash up fine in the washing machine & you can put them in the dryer on a low setting. Woman Within has more color selection than Junonia in almost every product offered- Junonia mostly sells their bottoms in black alone. As a plus-size woman, inner thighs in pants or shorts may wear out and/or start pilling on the fabric will occur. QuikWik doesn't do this, making it an extremely durable & comfortable option. Polyester & acrylic will usually pill this faster than cotton, plus do not breathe as well. Function should always come first over fashion, but nowhere is this more true than in workout wear.*

Here's the marvelous dual-layer shorts I told you about:

I personally don't like bike shorts. I have heavy thighs & they always ride up no matter what brand I buy. But if you like that style & they don't ride up on you, QuikWik ones are terrific:

The QuikWik leggings:

My Holy Grail Capri pant in QuikWik, worth every penny. They make my legs look firmer, too- they work great as shapewear, in addition to their fabulous workout potential!

Your next workout purchase? Socks. They're not needed if you do Yoga, Pilates or water sports, but are otherwise a necessity. Different foot builds, varying sports & particular climates will change your selection(s). I like a thin, cool, lo-cut sock that keeps my feet from feeling sweaty. Crew & quarter-socks will make your legs look a little shorter & are a slightly more dated choice. Style shouldn't be your absolute obsession- function is far more important in the long run. But if you can choose style & still get maximum form/comfort, so much the better. Remember that I work out indoors, have a home with central A/C & heat & therefore my sock style doesn't need to change with the seasons. My suggestions are based on that. There are lots of articles on the Internet which will tell you how to address climate- & sports-specific sock issues beyond the scope of what I can address. Remember to have fun with color & style. If something comes in your favorite color, is within your budget & is appropriate for your exercise goals, buy it! Here's the styles I love best:

I've got one favorite brand of crew socks. They're made for diabetics & have lots of stretch. I'm not a diabetic but I love the warmth & comfort of these socks. They're just terrific for people who suffer from swollen feet. They also run in large sizes for those with bigger feet like me. I think they're superb for daily wear, for outdoor workouts in colder climates & for those that need a thick crew sock when they exercise.

Don't be ashamed to admit you're a bigger size than you thought after taking your measurements. So what if five years ago you were a 36C and now you're a 42D? Big deal- I'm sure in that five years you've accomplished some great things in your life. Focus on everything you've done well. Don't worry about yesterday, who you were or what size you were way back when. This is about now. Exercise should be pursued as a recreational pleasure, not torture to endure while watching each little calorie burned. People are mostly well-fed in America today & generally live longer than at any time in history- ignore the buggers who say something isn't right with you, no matter how you look, be it thin or not. Remember that most of us now have thankfully avoided the debilitating childhood illnesses that typically made people smaller & shorter in previous centuries (if they survived at all)- such as polio, smallpox, typhoid, cholera, etc. Many children starved years ago frequently through childhood, especially little girls, if one or both of their parents died, crops went bad or their father's business went bust. With far less focus on local farming being the sole source of one's food supply, most people never experience long-term famine in wealthier nations now. Our ancestors did not have modern medicine, vitamins & mineral supplements or vast nutritional knowledge to build height & weight. If you look at women from even sixty years ago, they tended to have smaller bones- not just less fat. You can tell from their shoulders, ankles, feet & ribcage that we have bigger bones (in general) today. Watch a TV show from the 1950's & you'll see exactly what I mean. Women typically don't smoke or drink alcohol while pregnant anymore, which years ago was far more common (especially for those born in the baby boomer generation & the two generations right before them), leading to a lower birth weight. And a lower birth weight is typically tied to a lower adult weight, but also to certain health problems throughout the lifespan. Hormones added to milk, meat & poultry designed to fatten up the respective animals also found their way into our bodies as we ate them, causing us to fatten up, too. There are many different obesogens out there, and we need to start recognizing that as a society. It isn't just about diet & exercise- if it were as simple as calories in, calories out, this wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar business. Please keep in mind that simply because someone is slim, it doesn't mean that they're healthy. Pat Nixon, for example, is someone who was always very slim. However, she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, suffered both a debilitating stroke in later life & a few different types of cancer before she passed away. I say this not to be mean or spiteful, but to say we must start looking beneath the surface of each other before passing judgment. We should be glad that people are generally healthy & living in plenty more often, not putting people down because they're bigger than their ancestors. Remember, it's not just women who've expanded- men are a lot bigger than in previous centuries, too! A lot of people who blame modern Americans forget that fifty or sixty years ago families were generally larger (more mouths to feed = smaller portions for most at the dinner table, especially for the girls). Many more people drank alcohol for their dinner instead of eating, had access to amphetamines & other forms of diet pills mostly unavailable today. This is no longer socially acceptable or even possible in most circles. They were also able to be more active outdoors. Gardening, doing laundry, housework- many of the activities that helped keep women slim years ago have either had to be given up as women went into the workforce full-time, disappeared due to urban sprawl or because technology eased up the methods of cleaning products like vacuums. People no longer have to do the heavy spring-cleaning of years ago due to burning less fires in a fireplace, using modern cooking methods, having central air & central heat. Waxing floors is something almost unheard-of now. Cars, buses & trains made horseback riding out of need & walking long distances to get somewhere important much less common.

Anyway, if you work out three to six days a week, which is the average for most women, you're going to go through your exercise shoes at a faster pace than even your regular walking shoes. Remember to look carefully at what shoes are right for your particular arch (high, normal or flat) & instep, if you will need a shoe that allows room for your own foot orthotics, what activity you'll be performing most often & how much flexibility you like in your shoe. Overpronation & underpronation may need to be addressed, too. For exercises like lunges, split squats or running, flexibility in a shoe is important. In these exercises you'll need to be able to move your foot through it's full range of motion, and a shoe that's too stiff or padded in the arch can hinder this. However, you'll need a more supportive shoe if you have any type of pre-existing pain condition- knee problems, back pain, bursitis, shin splints, etc. Past ankle or knee injuries make extra stability in a shoe an utter necessity. Diabetic neuropathy or other foot conditions often mean you'll need a thinner sole, so that you can feel the ground under your feel more easily. Read reviews & descriptions of shoes very carefully, because often a shoe will sound great in description (or look great in a picture), but it'll be completely wrong for your feet and/or your exercise routine. Exercise shoes can run up to $165.00/pair. The more specialized, long & wide the shoe, typically the price will just keep rising. I like a lightweight, flexible shoe that works well for my flat feet, wide size & low instep. I'm already big & don't need a shoe that feels like lead to weigh me down more. I need a shoe with some stability but a lot of flexibility to go through the aerobic weight-training & stretching that I do.

The best brands of shoes that I've found are New Balance & Saucony. For high arches, Asics are extremely popular. It probably will take awhile for you to research shoes & I cannot emphasize enough how important wearing supportive shoes are. The last thing you want is a shoe that's too heavy, makes you feel unsteady on your feet or leaves you in pain. No shoe should ever leave you in pain, period! I know that many people still believe a shoe takes breaking in & this has occasionally been my experience, as well. What I recommend is to find a vendor or retailer that will take back your shoes within thirty days of purchase, no questions asked. This gives you time to receive the shoe, try them on & wear them for several workouts (I'd recommend allowing three to five workouts for shoes to break in, max). If you don't want to get them dirty, use them indoors only for a few workouts- run or walk on a treadmill, use them to do some body weight exercises with dumbbells at home, etc. See how they feel after allowing that break-in period. If they're uncomfortable, too stiff or non-supportive after that, send them back. I know you may be out some money for shipping if you order them online or by catalog. If you've never been fitted for athletic shoes before, then I really recommend you go to Lady Foot Locker or an equivalent store for a proper fitting. They will be able to easily tell what instep you have, what type of arch, whether you under- or overpronate at all, what your true current size is, etc. You can go over past injuries & present medical conditions that affect your workouts. Please do not underestimate the fact that the body works in tandem- if your feet are out of alignment, for example, you can end up with shoulder pain. I know that sounds impossible, but it's true. The bones in your feet are fairly small & relatively fragile. The older & more inactive you are, the more true this will be. The workers at a good shoe store will be able to make excellent suggestions for the best shoes based on the type of activity or activities you'll be engaging in.

Remember that for water sports, water shoes now exist in a variety of sizes & widths. I recommend them highly if you'll be doing water aerobics or swimming in a gym's pool, because it'll protect your feet along with giving them some serious defense against scratches & scrapes. Germs, bacteria & fungus that like to live on gym floors, too- wear flip-flops or water shoes in the shower, if you're using a stall in a gym filled with other people using it. (This is another reason why I love working out at home- none of those issues come up.)

Wide widths & women with longer feet also no longer have to settle for plain or ugly shoes! I wear an 11W & I used to have to settle for bland shoes. Nowadays there are more styles available to me than I could ever wear in one lifetime. Try to pick shoes that you absolutely love in looks, not just in function. This can motivate you more than you think! I really hesitate to make suggestions because everyone's body is different. I have back problems due to fibromyalgia & painful osteoarthritis in the knees, but otherwise my bones are thick. I do aerobic weight-training & athletic stretches for my workouts. I have an hourglass figure, a lot of muscle & good posture. If you have a body, feet & workout plans similar to me, here are the shoes I've found best:

Focus on eating as healthfully as you know how to fuel your brain & life, on letting go of the habits that hurt your health (drinking than one alcoholic drink a day, more than a mug of coffee a day, smoking & excessive sunbathing), keep drinking mostly water, get plenty of sleep, get a little sun every day that you can (10-20 minutes of exposure), exercise as much as you comfortably can & try to have a fun existence with real meaning to it. If you're a beginner, three to four workouts a week is plenty. Working out every other day gives a beginner-to-intermediate exerciser the rest that they'll likely need. Increase your workouts to five or six days a week only when your body can handle the demands. If you get sick or have an emergency come up that sucks up all of your time, take a break from working out for at least a couple of days. Don't have self-hatred if you skip your workouts for awhile. That's how life is sometimes. Exercise should be something that you enjoy, especially since you're committing so much of your life's hours to it. If swimming is what you love, swim. Stop thinking that you should be running instead, since "experts" say it burns more calories, if running is something you detest doing. Obviously, you've got a better shot at sticking with an exercise routine that you truly love doing. Self-designated experts often don't take joint or tendon stress into account when making their suggestions. They don't know you personally in most cases & can't tell where your passion lies. Maybe you always wanted to learn how to dance, for example- buy some DVDs focused on that or find a dance class supportive of people in all sizes. Step out of your fear & do what you've always wanted to try. Maybe you'll fall on your tush if you try it- that happens to most of us on the fitness journey at one point or another! If you think I'm not still daunted by my workouts at times after all these years, you're wrong. There are many times when I think, "How on earth will I get through this today?!" You may start a program & want to cry because you're not as fit as others around you. We've almost all been there. No one becomes an expert at any exercise type overnight. Yes, some may have a gift & be able to perform a particular kind of exercise with great ease, but don't compare yourself to them. This is not a competition!!! Your own body knows best which exercises it can handle & which ones your need to stay away from. You may try out a popular exercise program only to find that you really don't like it. Don't give up on working out altogether, though. If you've given a program six months & you still really hate it, I think it's time you shop around for a new exercise routine. Too may people now worry about having the right combination of cardio, weight-training & stretching. NO PERFECT EXERCISE PROGRAM EXISTS, THOUGH! Many are excellent- but none of them are perfect. All have some risk of injury, some much less than others. Keep this in your head. If you end up drastically changing your body shape or size for the better, kudos. But please don't expect living healthy to automatically send you to Size Zero Land if you've been plus-sized for years. Some people are built with a small frame & some aren't. This used to be accepted by society fairly easily. It's only in the last fifty years or so that we've started hearing verbal attacks against larger people. We can make our muscles bigger or larger, we can shread body fat or add it on, but certain genetic traits can't be undone! We all have lean parts & we all have less-than-perfect parts. Accept it. Your role model should be yourself in the long runIf you're focused on some other person's body & keep it as your ideal forever, you'll lose the precious gift of learning to love your own body. I'm a big woman, but you know what? I've had women come & say to me, "Oh, if only I had you eyes/nose/skin tone/thin fingers!" Me, the perpetual fat girl, I've had admirers. So I'm telling you to wake up here! I KNOW that you also have something wonderful that other have looked at enviously, too! It may be your thin ankles, your thick head of hair, your lovely long nails, your ability to connect with kids, your swift typing skills- I guarantee someone, somewhere, envied some part of you at one point! Maybe without you ever even knowing it. Make the best of those good traits, love them boldly & others will, too. I promise that's the truth!

Read as many books as your can on the subject of balanced, clean, healthy living, such as "Firm for Life" by Anna & Cynthia Benson. PLEASE remember that you can be as gorgeous & healthy at a size fourteen or higher as you would be in a size six or less, so long as you're living well! With all of the love that I can muster for you all, and I assure you all that's a lot of love, I am begging you to accept yourself as you are right now. Celebrate the completion of every workout, when you meet a milestone, every single time you master a new step or exercise. The movement itself should generally be pleasurable. Separate the exercising from any weight-loss or body-shaping goals & you may find that the old sense of pressure you felt disappears. Working out can't come from a place of self-loathing & still be enjoyable. Of course it's fine to have short- and/or long-term goals related to exercise. That can be motivating & even fun. I just prefer goals related to performance as opposed to dropping a certain amount of weight or reaching a particular dress size. Do the workouts for the journey, not for some distant outcome unless having such a goal is truly enjoyable to you. Many times we hate exercise because it's a form of self-punishment in our minds. In this society, it's extremely easy to fall into that trap. Please watch for that landmine & avoid it. You're awesome just the way you are today.

Here's to being a healthy organized minimalist,


  1. Great...Thanks for posting such a good blog...

    1. You're quite welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my blog. :)